As the Summer rolls in and television seasons end, viewers wait with bated breath to see whether their favorite shows continue. Unfortunately, for longtime fans, June 1st brought with it a shocking announcement by Netflix: they would not be renewing Sense8 for a 3rd season. While shows come and go, this cancellation was met with great dismay, including from myself.
What made Sense8 so special? Why is it so disheartening to see this show canceled? What legitimate reason did Netflix have?
Diversity and Representation
Sense8 wasn’t just a good show, at least for those who enjoyed it; this series was applauded for its representation and progressive ideals. Sense8 had one of the most diverse casts on television, even more than shows like Star Trek, and it broke down barriers. Racially, the core cast was only half white; the rest were Asian, black, and Latino. Add in the remaining cast regulars? You ended up closer to 37% white, 35% Asian, 17% black, and 11% Latino. While not evenly split, this representation is better than most of television, including more famous series with serious diversity problems.
Culture-wise, this show (quite literally) stretched the globe. The first season was shot in nine different cities in eight countries across four continents (and some islands); this expanded to 16 cities in 11 countries across five continents in the second season. Sense8 presented numerous ethnicities and faiths, as well as cultural and geographical experiences and issues.
Even beyond ethno-racial divides, this show received strong support from the LGBTQ+ community for its representation of sexual orientations and gender identities. Sense8 was probably the first main cast that had a transgender character depicted by an actual transgender person. Also, the plight of Nomi Marks (portrayed by the amazing Jamie Clayton) reflected many of the issues transgender people face: recognition by others, discrimination from the LGB community, etc. Of course, given this show was created, written, and directed by transgender siblings, this focus makes sense.
There are some who disagree, claiming the representations were racist, homophobic, and stereotypical. That’s a topic for another article, but I will politely disagree and state what most fans believe.
One of the biggest complaints about Sense8 was that the show was too slow and boring. For those of us who grew up reading Atwood, Bradbury, Dick, and Le Guin, we remember when science-fiction focused on the human experience rather than future-tech and space battles. Even “hard” science-fiction authors, like Asimov, Clarke, and Herbert, used their science-based ideas to explore politics, religion, and world issues. Only in the past several decades has sci-fi become primarily associated with the action-adventure movies that draw a more general audience.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with contemporary sci-fi; I enjoy many different styles of the genre. Sense8, however, returned us to a more introspective, humanistic style, and I think that was one of its best aspects. The show was slow and dramatic because it was exploring the philosophical questions of identity, labels, and divisions. What would happen to people from across the globe, separated by geography and culture, should they be psychically linked? How would we change when we not only see through others’ eyes, literally, but hear, taste, smell, touch, and feel? Where do our identity start and theirs begin, and how would it change our personalities, both internal and social?
Even when a show has a focus on humanity and drama, they rarely go this far into the more esoteric questions. The profound questions are simply the icing on space operas and future-tech mysteries, from Babylon 5 to Almost Human. For a television series to reverse that, where the action is the addition to the introspection, is far less common.
A Loss of Open-Mindedness
When Netflix ended Sense8, this wasn’t just the loss of a favorite series; this was the end of one of the most diverse, progressive, and reflective series currently in production. Worse, this cancellation couldn’t have come at a worse time, given the rise of nationalism, bigotry, hate crimes, and social movements that are the opposite of open-mindedness. Probably those hurt the worst were fans from the LGBTQ+ community, who finally had a show that represented, and focused on, themselves.
The loss of Sense8 almost seemed to reflect our current sociopolitical situation in America. Regression to earlier, more intolerant times, when the issues facing so many were ignored. Sure, new television series may attempt to break down barriers, but will they do so with such force and accuracy? Will they present the naked “truth” without restraint, figuratively and literally?
What Happened to Everyone?
For those that haven’t seen Sense8, the second season was not a complete story. Without revealing too much, the show ended on an absolute cliffhanger. The protagonists had just struck their first major blow against their enemies, yet one of their own remained in need of rescue. The main cast had just been introduced to the world of sensates and became involved in that culture. Plus, there were numerous individual storylines left without resolution.
This cancellation didn’t just leave people disappointed, unfulfilled, or with further questions – Netflix ended the main storyline completely unresolved. In the history of series finales, planned and unplanned, there are very few shows that do this and even less after multiple seasons. If Netflix had at least concluded the main story or at least ended where fans could continue to imagine on their own, then perhaps the shock would have been lessened.
There Are No Excuses, Netflix
The question raging among the fans of Sense8 is simple: why? Why, at this point in society, when things are at their worse, would you cancel this show? What reasons could Netflix have for ending a series that was popular, positively received by critics, and nominated for (and won) awards?
The obvious excuse was the cost. Shooting in that many locations made the series expensive, with estimates reaching over $100 million per season. Considering they also canceled The Get Down, which was even more expensive, then this seems like a legitimate reason.
Except, at the end of Season Two, most of the main cast was within a single location. This situation could have been a turning point where the cost dropped dramatically, the production and story adapted to a more traditional approach. Maybe they limited the show to several cities or countries? Perhaps the characters traveled to each other location, to resolve their individual chapters? Either way, if the cost was the problem, the series was at the perfect point to address that issue.
Another possibility was that the show didn’t have enough viewers compared to other Netflix shows. The problem is, the only people that know if that’s true are Netflix, and they refuse to provide any viewership data. Although the possibility exists that Sense8’s numbers were lower than the hardcore fans believe, the reaction online suggests otherwise. Almost every major article discussed how the cancellation was shocking or heartbreaking. Multiple petitions arose to save the show and have received nearly as many supporters as those dismayed at the United States exiting the Paris Agreements. Unlike other canceled shows, Sense8 doesn’t seem to lack in audience.
The final, most nonsensical, explanation comes directly from Netflix’s CEO, Reed Hastings.
“What really matters is I hope our hit ration is way too high right now,” Hastings said. “So, we’ve canceled very few shows…I’m always pushing the content team, we have to take more risk. You have to try more crazy things, because we should have a higher cancel rate overall. Because then, what you get is you get some winners that are just unbelievable winners, like 13 Reasons Why. Over the last three months [13 Reasons Why] has been a big hit for us. And you know, it surprised us too. I mean, it was a great show, but we didn’t realize just how it would catch on.”
Netflix has too many hits? They need to have a higher cancel rate? Somehow, canceling hit shows equates to better hits? What sort of bullsh– is Netflix smoking? This zero-sum logic is about as valid as Ayn Rand objectivism and trickle-down economics. Did she hire the underpants gnomes to create a plan for profit? “Step one, cancel a bunch of hits. Step two, . Step three, our hits will be better!”
Worse, Hastings believes that 13 Reasons Why is an example of the “unbelievable winners” that Netflix will garner. A show about teenage suicide, marketed for teenagers despite its Mature Audiences rating, which has been criticized by the mental health community for its dangerous presentation of the topic, is the “big hit” Netflix wants. All while shows that explore diversity, social issues, and humanity, like Sense8 and The Get Down, are thrown out.
Netflix has become the FOX Network of Subscription Television
Reed Hastings and whomever else is involved in decisions at Netflix, have lost their minds. Like FOX before them, they’ve canceled top-notch shows with large fan bases for no valid reason. Rumored excuses for the cancellation don’t seem to hold up. When asked directly “Why?”, their only response is something so ridiculous it came out of a tweet.
Our best hope is there’s enough of an outrage and pressure from subscribers that Netflix relents, at least for one more season. That’s also the least likely, as we know how these companies react when people call them on their mistakes. The second hope is that they fund a Sense8 movie, a two-hour special that hopefully resolves the core plot. I wouldn’t be entirely happy, but at least I’d be content knowing what happened after the finale.
Other possibilities remain, and fans are eager for something. Maybe another network picks the show up? HBO, Showtime, and Starz all have (or had) hit series on the same level of material. Barring that, there’s also the possibility of seeing the ending in other media formats, like novels or even comic books. At this point, I’d read an unfinished script or production notes.
Netflix, if you’re listening? Remember the words of Wolfgang: “Sometimes… you make a mistake. You’ve got two choices: you live with it, or you fix it.”
Here’s hoping you choose to fix it, rather than try to ignore it and live with the consequences.